Cargo Theft: What It Is, How to Prevent It, What To Do If It Happens to You

Cargo theft. It’s rare, but its impact is wide. While porch pirates grab the attention of the average consumer, logistics professionals and shippers are seeing a sizable increase in both old-fashioned and high-tech theft of entire truckloads of commodities including food and beverage products, household goods and electronics. 

Here at Anderson Trucking Service (ATS), we send successful shipments every day. Unfortunately, in our 65 years in business we’ve also seen our share of theft and scams. We’ve learned lessons from each of these incidents, and we want to help you keep your cargo safe as well. 

In this article, you will learn the most common types of cargo theft, what it looks like, what you can do to protect your cargo, and what to do if you are a victim of cargo theft. 

Tips to Avoid Traditional Cargo Theft

Old-school thievery is still the leading cause of cargo theft. Traditional cargo theft includes simple schemes, such as porch pirates stealing packages left outside, unattended trailers being opened and emptied, and even thieves posing as drivers to haul freight to a non-authorized location. 

Preventing traditional cargo theft is usually as simple as following these basic safety procedures:

  • Avoid leaving freight unattended. Drivers can help prevent traditional cargo theft by parking in secure, well-attended locations, or by backing up to a fence or other barrier. 

  • For highly valuable freight, the shipper may specify that the driver needs to travel a specified distance before stopping to deter potential thieves, or they may hire team drivers so the load keeps moving and is never left out of the driver’s sight. The less time a load is parked reduces the chance of it being stolen.  

  • Using a reputable carrier and/or driver reduces the likelihood that the driver will be part of a larger cargo theft ring. 

While the newer, more high-tech methods of cargo theft get a lot of attention, traditional cargo theft is still a significant problem in the industry. Using basic common sense practices helps protect cargo from both simple thievery and sophisticated schemes. 

New Trends and Methods of Cargo Theft

Modern-day cargo theft can take the form of phishing, online scams and identity theft. Just like other industries, the trucking industry is hit with this type of scam on a frequent basis, and it takes a sharp eye and vigilance to protect cargo from these modern-day heists. This type of theft can take several forms. 

Imitating a Broker or Carrier 

Some bad actors will imitate a legitimate freight broker and arrange a job with a customer and carrier. Still imitating the legitimate broker, they arrange for a driver to haul and deliver the freight. They often use trucking-specific terms like “blind shipment” and specify not to tell the shipper where you are delivering. They might offer cash upon delivery. 

Once the legit carrier has loaded the freight, they try to reroute the carrier to a warehouse where they can quickly transload and move the product. When the load doesn’t arrive as expected, the customer looks for their freight and realizes that they may have hired a bad actor. This type of scheme often harms the driver, who delivered the load as instructed and wasn’t aware they were working for a scam broker. 

This can also take the form of a scammer “creating” a new brokerage. They win the load contract, hire a third party to carry the load, collect payment from the customer and never pay the carrier. Once the scam is realized, the new broker disappears. 

Faking a Consignee

Some scammers will use phishing and other technology breaches to intercept an existing load and change the recipient address. The driver follows directions and unloads the freight. Only after the driver leaves does the original receiver contact the carrier to find out what happened to their delivery. 

5 Mistakes Shippers Make When Selecting a Freight Brokerage

Double Brokering

In a double brokering scam, a broker or shipper contracts a legitimate carrier to haul a load of freight. Rather than hauling the load, the carrier then brokers the load to another carrier without consent from the broker or shipper. There may be multiple carriers/brokers involved to intentionally muddy the water. In the end, the first carrier pockets the money and never pays the actual hauling carrier. 

Double brokering scams have plagued the industry for years; however, with increases in theft, it’s important to be much more cautious of these types of scams. These scams often provide deals that seem too good to be true — because they are.

With modern tools readily available, these scams are increasingly common…in fact, these modern cargo thefts are estimated to be up 600% from one year ago. It’s not easy to protect yourself from modern cargo heists, but it is possible. 

How to Prevent Cargo Theft 

Your IT department has probably given you tips to stay safe from online phishing and email scams. Many of those same rules can help you keep your cargo safe. Protecting your information from bad actors will also make it harder to steal your cargo.

Follow Information Security Practices

Many modern scams can be prevented by enforcing and following strong anti-phishing policies. 

  • Keep passwords private.
  • Change passwords frequently. 
  • Do not click links from unknown senders.
  • Do not reply to unsolicited emails. 

Be Vigilant 

Sham brokers or carriers often imitate an existing broker or carrier. They’re careful and good at what they do, making it easy to fall into their trap. 

For example, you may regularly work with someone who has an email address. A scammer may create an email address just off by one small character, which you can easily miss when you read your own emails. 

While small differences like this may seem insignificant, they can end up leading to thousands of dollars in property loss and damage. Paying attention to details like email addresses, phone numbers, mailing addresses, logos and even names can help stop scams. 

Verify Everything

Your past experience, and the experience of your colleagues and network, is another way to help combat cargo scams. For example, if an unknown contact from one of your vendors suddenly reaches out to you, it is smart to check in with a known contact from that same vendor to verify this new employee is legitimate. 

As a shipper or receiver, this can also mean tracking every truck that comes in or out of your facility, including:

  • MC number
  • License plate
  • Driver license information
  • Bill of lading 
  • Carrier name
  • USDOT number 
  • If possible, use video cameras or photos to record this information

This step is a lot of work, especially if you have multiple loads coming in and out every day, but it definitely makes it harder for bad actors to steal your valuable freight. 


Stick to Known Providers

If you have a successful relationship with a carrier or broker you trust, continue working with them. An existing relationship where you have built trust over time is one way to ensure you are working with someone who has your best interests in mind. 

Thoroughly Vet New Providers

Before engaging a new provider, be sure you know who you are working with. Legitimate providers pop up every day, but unfortunately so do sham providers. Before sharing any non-public information, make sure you know who you are dealing with. 

  • Ask for references. Even new providers should be able to provide contact information for someone they have successfully worked with in the past. 

  • Check with your network. See if any of your existing contacts are familiar with this provider, and ask how their experience has been. Current and former colleagues, LinkedIn, networking groups and even friendly competitors can all serve as referrals when vetting a new company. 

  • Use data sites to get more information. These sites, while not foolproof, can be used to learn more about potential new carriers. 

Consider the Reality of the Offer

When comparing carriers or brokers, if something appears too good to be true, that’s a red flag. While there is always variance in any industry, the primary costs of the trucking industry are fairly static–fuel, vehicle maintenance and driver pay. If someone comes in and promises to severely undercut the competitors or provide a far better rate for drivers, find out why. 

Vet Your Digital Broker

Digital brokers, who match shippers and receivers without prioritizing a relationship, are no more or less vulnerable to scams than traditional brokers. 

When using a digital broker, the first step is to verify the information of the broker itself–they should combine traditional safety measures with technical safety measures like two-factor authentication. 

After you have confirmed the legitimacy of the broker itself, use the same vetting procedures as you would with any other carrier. There is no reason that a carrier sourced through a digital broker can’t provide an MC number, driver’s license information or other details. 

While you can reduce your exposure to cargo theft by following these steps, the number of scams completed every day shows that unfortunately, the scammers still win sometimes. If a scam does get through your safety measures, there are steps you can take to mitigate the damage. 

Steps to Cargo Theft Recovery 

If cargo theft happens to you, stay calm. While you may or may not be able to recover your shipment, following prescribed steps can increase your odds of a recovery or insurance payment–and it may help others avoid the same fate in the future. 

File a Police Report

The first step when your shipment is stolen is to file a police report. If your local police department is not used to dealing with this type of crime, contact the PD at the freight’s origin and destination points, or where you believe the theft may have occurred. 

The police report should be your first call, and should include all relevant details, including the type of freight, route and estimated value. If you have video, photos or documentation, provide that as well. 

Notify Everyone Involved

Everyone involved in the shipment, including the shipper, consignee, carrier and broker, should be informed as soon as possible. This may also help you find the thief – if one of these entities doesn’t respond, or if you find you weren’t working with the entity you thought, that will narrow down what happened. 

Being fully transparent with all entities involved is also an important step in preserving the relationship. Evading questions about what happened to the freight won’t make you seem more trustworthy, and it definitely won’t solve the problem. Showing that you are invested in this load can make you seem more trustworthy for future business. 

In some cases, larger entities will also help you work with insurance or otherwise recover the cost of your freight. Large companies value their reputations, and it may be worth it to them to provide some compensation to preserve that reputation and your relationship. 

Work with Insurance

All full truckload cargo is covered by insurance. Refer to the load contract to determine who was responsible for the load at the time of the theft, and contact their insurance company. 

While insurance companies may cite negligence and not pay on the claim, don’t count them out right away. They will ask for the police report, so be sure to have that available as soon as possible. 

While it may be possible to financially recover from cargo theft, it’s best to prevent it before it happens. Don’t become a statistic; take common-sense steps to stop cargo theft before it happens. 

One Solution to Cargo Theft: You 

Cargo theft costs money and time, and it goes a long way in eroding trust. While it’s not something you need to actively fear, you can stay vigilant at every step in the shipping process.

No matter your role in the industry, using common sense and vigilance can help prevent cargo theft. Asking questions, verifying what you are told and double checking details may take a few extra minutes when arranging your shipment, but the results can truly pay off. 

One step you can take is finding an honest broker. To help find one, download the Common Mistakes Guide. Or request a quote from ATS, and use your newly honed skills to vet our services. 

Request a Quote

Tags: Safety, Cargo Insurance, Technology

Mark Andres

Written by Mark Andres

Mark has been with ATS Logistics, in various roles, since January 2006. Starting as a regional carrier representative, Mark's work ethic and leadership excellence helped him rise through ATS Logistics' ranks where he was promoted first to operations manager and then to operations director thereafter — a position he's held for over five years now. Although Mark enjoys many parts of his job, witnessing and contributing to the growth and development of ATS Logistics' employees tops the list as he strives to help each new hire reach their full potential as a member of the ATS Logistics family.

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